[OF THIS WORD FEAR AS IT IS TAKEN FOR THE WORD OF GOD.]
I shall now come to the second thing, to wit, to the rule and director of our fear.
SECOND. But again, this word FEAR is sometimes to be taken for THE WORD, the written Word of God; for that also is, and ought to be, the rule and director of our fear. So David calls it in the nineteenth Psalm: "the fear of the Lord," saith he, "is clean, enduring for ever." The fear of the Lord, that is, the Word of the Lord, the written word; for that which he calleth in this place the fear of the Lord, even in the same place he calleth the law, statutes, commandments, and judgments of God. "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple: the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes: the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." All these words have respect to the same thing, to wit, to the Word of God, jointly designing the glory of it. Among which phrases, as you see, this is one, "The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever." This written Word is therefore the object of a Christian's fear. This is that also which David intended when he said, "Come, ye children, hearken unto me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord" (Psa 34:11). I will teach you the fear, that is, I will teach you the commandments, statutes, and judgments of the Lord, even as Moses commanded the children of Israel—"Thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deut 6:4-7).
That also in the eleventh of Isaiah intends the same, where the Father saith of the Son, that he shall be of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord; that he may judge and smite the earth with the rod of his mouth. This rod in the text is none other but the fear, the Word of the Lord; for he was to be of a quick understanding, that he might smite, that is, execute it according to the will of his Father, upon and among the children of men. Now this, as I said, is called the fear of the Lord, because it is called the rule and director of our fear. For we know not how to fear the Lord in a saving way without its guidance and direction. As it is said of the priest that was sent back from the captivity to Samaria to teach the people to fear the Lord, so it is said concerning the written Word; it is given to us, and left among us, that we may read therein all the days of our life, and learn to fear the Lord (Deut 6:1-3,24, 10:12, 17:19). And here it is that, trembling at the Word of God, is even by God himself not only taken notice of, but counted as laudable and praiseworthy, as is evident in the case of Josiah (2 Chron 34:26,27). Such also are the approved of God, let them be condemned by whomsoever: "Hear the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name's sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified; but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed" (Isa 66:5).
Further, such shall be looked to, by God himself cared for, and watched over, that no distress, temptation, or affliction may overcome them and destroy them—"To this man will I look," saith God, "even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word." It is the same in substance with that in the same prophet in chapter 57: "For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." Yea, the way to escape dangers foretold, is to hearken to, understand, and fear the Word of God—"He that feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh, made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses," and they were secured; but "he that regarded not the word of the Lord, left his servants and his cattle in the field," and they were destroyed of the hail (Exo 9:20-25).
If at any time the sins of a nation or church are discovered and bewailed, it is by them that know and tremble at the word of God. When Ezra heard of the wickedness of his brethren, and had a desire to humble himself before God for the same, who were they that would assist him in that matter, but they that trembled at the word of God?—"Then," saith he, "were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away" (Ezra 9:4). They are such also that tremble at the Word that are best able to give counsel in the matters of God, for their judgment best suiteth with his mind and will: "Now therefore," said he, "let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the (strange) wives, - according to the counsel of my Lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the law" (Ezra 10:3). Now something of the dread and terror of the Word lieth in these things.
First. As I have already hinted, from the author of them, they are the words of God. Therefore you have Moses and the prophets, when they came to deliver their errand, their message to the people, still saying, "Hear the word of the Lord," "Thus saith the Lord," and the like. So when Ezekiel was sent to the house of Israel, in their state of religion, thus was he bid to say unto them, "Thus saith the Lord God" ; "Thus saith the Lord God" (Eze 2:4, 3:11). This is the honour and majesty, then, that God hath put upon his written Word, and thus he hath done even of purpose, that we might make them the rule and directory of our fear, and that we might stand in awe of, and tremble at them. When Habakkuk heard the word of the Lord, his belly trembled, and rottenness entered into his bones. "I trembled in myself," said he, "that I might rest in the day of trouble" (Hab 3:16). The word of a king is as the roaring of a lion; where the word of a king is, there is power. What is it, then, when God, the great God, shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem, whose voice shakes not only the earth, but also heaven? How doth holy David set it forth; "The voice of the Lord is powerful, the voice of the Lord is full of majesty," &c. (Psa 29).
Second. It is a Word that is fearful, and may well be called the fear of the Lord, because of the subject matter of it; to wit, the state of sinners in another world; for that is it unto which the whole Bible bendeth itself, either more immediately or more mediately. All its doctrines, counsels, encouragements, threatenings, and judgments, have a look, one way or other, upon us, with respect to the next world, which will be our last state, because it will be to us a state eternal. This word, this law, these judgments, are they that we shall be disposed of by—"The word that I have spoken," says Christ, "it shall judge you (and so consequently dispose of you) in the last day" (John 12:48). Now, if we consider that our next state must be eternal, either eternal glory or eternal fire, and that this eternal glory or this eternal fire must be our portion, according as the words of God, revealed in the holy Scriptures, shall determine; who will not but conclude that therefore the words of God are they at which we should tremble, and they by which we should have our fear of God guided and directed, for by them we are taught how to please him in everything?
Third. It is to be called a fearful Word, because of the truth and faithfulness of it. The Scriptures cannot be broken. Here they are called the Scriptures of truth, the true sayings of God, and also the fear of the Lord, for that every jot and tittle thereof is for ever settled in heaven, and stand more steadfast than doth the world—"Heaven and earth," saith Christ, "shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matt 24:35). Those, therefore, that are favoured by the Word of God, those are favoured indeed, and that with the favour that no man can turn away; but those that by the word of the Scriptures are condemned, those can no man justify and set quit in the sight of God. Therefore what is bound by the text, is bound, and what is released by the text, is released; also the bond and release is unalterable (Dan 10:21; Rev 19:9; Matt 24:35; Psa 119:89; John 10:35). This, therefore, calleth upon God's people to stand more in fear of the Word of God than of all the terrors of the world. There wanteth even in the hearts of God's people a greater reverence of the Word of God than to this day appeareth among us, and this let me say, that want of reverence of the Word is the ground of all disorders that are in the heart, life, conversation, and in Christian communion. Besides, the want of reverence of the Word layeth men open to the fearful displeasure of God—"Whoso despiseth the word shall be destroyed; but he that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded" (Prov 13:13).
All transgression beginneth at wandering from the Word of God; but, on the other side, David saith, "Concerning the works of men, by the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer" (Psa 17:4). Therefore Solomon saith, "My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings; let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart; for they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh" (Prov 4:20-22). Now, if indeed thou wouldest reverence the Word of the Lord, and make it thy rule and director in all things, believe that the Word is the fear of the Lord, the Word that standeth fast for ever; without and against which God will do nothing, either in saving or damning of the souls of sinners. But to conclude this,
1. Know that those that have no due regard to the Word of the Lord, and that make it not their dread and their fear, but the rule of their life is the lust of their flesh, the desire of their eyes, and the pride of life, are sorely rebuked by this doctrine, and are counted the fools of the world; for "lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord, and what wisdom is in them?" (Jer 8:9). That there are such a people is evident, not only by their irregular lives, but by the manifest testimony of the Word. "As for the word of the Lord,"said they to Jeremiah, "that thou hast spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee, but we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth" (Jer 44:16). Was this only the temper of wicked men then? Is not the same spirit of rebellion amongst us in our days? Doubtless there is; for there is no new thing—"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be, and that which is done is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun" (Eccl 1:9). Therefore, as it was then, so it is with many in this day.
As for the Word of the Lord, it is nothing at all to them; their lusts, and whatsoever proceedeth out of their own mouths, that they will do, that they will follow. Now, such will certainly perish in their own rebellion; for this is as the sin of witchcraft; it was the sin of Korah and his company, and that which brought upon them such heavy judgments; yea, and they are made a sign that thou shouldest not do as they, for they perished (because they rejected the word, the fear of the Lord) from among the congregation of the Lord, "and they became a sign." The word which thou despisest still abideth to denounce its woe and judgment upon thee; and unless God will save such with the breath of his word—and it is hard trusting to that—they must never see his face with comfort (1 Sam 15:22,23; Num 26:9,10).
2. Are the words of God called by the name of the fear of the Lord? Are they so dreadful in their receipt and sentence? Then this rebukes them that esteem the words and things of men more than the words of God, as those do who are drawn from their respect of, and obedience to, the Word of God, by the pleasures or threats of men. Some there be who verily will acknowledge the authority of the Word, yet will not stoop their souls thereto. Such, whatever they think of themselves, are judged by Christ to be ashamed of the Word; wherefore their state is damnable as the other. "Whosoever," saith he, "shall be ashamed of me and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of the Father, with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38).
3. And if these things be so, what will become of those that mock at, and professedly contemn, the words of God, making them as a thing ridiculous, and not to be regarded? Shall they prosper that do such things? From the promises it is concluded that their judgment now of a long time slumbereth not, and when it comes, it will devour them without remedy (2 Chron 36:15). If God, I say, hath put that reverence upon his Word as to call it the fear of the Lord, what will become of them that do what they can to overthrow its authority, by denying it to be his Word, and by raising cavils against its authority? Such stumble, indeed, at the Word, being appointed thereunto, but it shall judge them in the last day (1 Peter 2:8; John 12:48). But thus much for this.
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7. The Word is the decree upon which we must depend or perish. In vain, poor sinner, is any reliance upon churches or men; neither Papist nor Protestant have any power "committed unto them" to forgive sins. If they claim it, believe them not, but pity their pride and delusion. Christ is the Rock, and not poor erring Peter, as some have vainly imagined. Peter is dead, awaiting the resurrection of his body, and the great day of judgment; but Christ ever liveth at all times, and in all places, able to save unto the uttermost. Put no trust in man, but in thy broken spirit seek the blessing of Christ, that he may pardon thy sins.—Ed.